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Mature Students – Stress and Challenges of Returning to School
Mature students face practical and emotional challenges
Resuming studies as an adult, whether after a break of a few years or several decades, is a tremendous opportunity for personal growth and development. Sometimes, however, it poses particular personal and interpersonal challenges that lead to stress and can interfere with the achievement of academic or skill-building goals.
It should be recognized that there are typical stresses that can sometimes feel threatening or overwhelming and may cause a mature student to seek help or advice. Here’s a look at some of the challenges and issues a mature student might have that might be worth addressing in personal therapy….
The youthful environment ties us back to our younger selves: hopes and fears…memories of early failures drag us down. The original family issues around competition, self-esteem, fear of success, dependency, and archaic parental expectations can be rekindled.
What can you finally do now that you couldn’t do then? Dare to try again.
Go back to school because you have to. The emotional fallout of downsizing, layoffs being laid off… marriage breakdown.
Psychology of being there… and staying there!
Family pressure to stay in old roles, family interference…the family drags its feet and acts out in response to attempts at change and development. The family feeling of being abandoned creates guilt.
Psychological strain of new experience and new challenges,
- Feelings of inferiority over the skills of younger classmates in a difficult mix with feelings of superiority around their own accomplishments.
- Strain in group projects that may result.
- Social isolation from student peers…no fish or poultry or good red herring…feeling both above and below
- The strain of the steep learning curve in the face of technology and study skills that have lain fallow for many years…you can’t do your child’s seventh grade math anymore…so how do you against statistics.
Perfectionism, a very common phenomenon that can serve as a defense and its relationship to self-sabotage.. how your perfectionism gets in your way.
Impostor syndrome… the symptoms are:
- Inability to internalize feelings of being talented or competent in the face of any objective evidence to the contrary
- Attribute success to external factors unrelated to ability.
- Compare yourself to others
- Focus on the strengths of others and their own weaknesses
- Minimizing the weakness of others and one’s own power.
- Being tied down by deadlines
- Avoid Challenges
- Demand perfection and thus never escape disappointment
- Feeling anxiety, fear, and depression because of pressure to live up to a successful image or fear of being exposed as unworthy or incompetent
Philosophical and moral development
Becoming an individual: the last stages of the personal development of the psychologist Erik Erikson are beginning to be felt:
“Generativity vs. Stagnation”…leads to “Integrity vs. Despair”
Adult intellectual and moral development: moral issues related to individual stance, giving back to the community.
Carol Gilligan on the moral development of women: the right of women to deal with the circle of care and education. Not always putting the needs of others first.
Sandwich generation… Being a “triple decker” sandwich in fact… with responsibilities to the generation above and below… as well as a responsibility to oneself.
Feeling of Vocation …Feeling a “vocation” to do a job is a powerful driving force for effort and sacrifice, but also at the start, sometimes difficult to justify or express. The existential need or aspiration to express yourself in this particular way and create a life consistent with your mature values needs validation and support. Luigi Rulla, writing on vocation, argues that the main difference between career and vocation is that vocation is not the expression of self-concept, but rather the expression of ideal self. He argues that vocation has much more to do with the expression of values than career. It is entirely possible to pursue a career that is well suited to your abilities and the potential of the environment but which does not place a strong emphasis on personal values. There may be a redefinition of personal values in mid-life that is strong enough to cause an upheaval in professional trajectories. Professional vocations have the characteristic requirement that the personal values of the aspirant be consistent with those of the field or institution. He suggests that ability and skills are superficial attributes that can be changed significantly as the aspirant strives to express deep values.
The emphasis on values can cause an aspirant to make personal sacrifices and override normal considerations of stability, prestige, status, and compensation. This choice may not be equally valued by others around them…and this can cause interpersonal problems.
Practical and physical considerations…
Coping with Physical Limitations: For men and women, accepting and adapting to increasing limits and decreasing energy levels.
Time management… sleepless nights are no longer an option! Need to develop alternative strategies.
Networking: applying the skills, resources and networks of contacts of adult life to the scholarly task
Effects of menopause and peri-menopause on the psychology and physiology of women.
Do not suffer in silence
Many of the challenges described above are not limited to mature students
These are often predictable challenges of adulthood and midlife…but the added challenge of returning to school can intensify experiences to the point of making them overwhelming or highlighting them in unexpected ways. Talking about these issues with a caring friend, therapist, or counselor can help normalize the experience and can allow you to find realistic and practical ways to resolve issues as they arise.
Going back to school is exciting and also emotionally and psychologically exciting.
Inner restlessness and self-examination can be marked by external manifestations such as increased physical and mental fatigue which sometimes manifests as mild depression and social withdrawal, but it should be noted that research assures us that , even if it seems “destabilizing”, the return to education and career changes are rational responses to the dissatisfaction and unmet needs of well-adjusted people!
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